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Catholic camp for the consecration (and fun) of the family

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Parents and their children can worship, reconnect and have a blast

Envision a corner of wilderness, perfectly tucked away. No internet, phone or TV. Someone else doing the cooking, never ending outdoor entertainment for the kids and the perfect balance of fun, prayer, relaxation and family time — the stuff dreams are made of, right?

Courtesy of the Alabama Family Consecration Group, hosted at the Diocese of Birmingham’s Camp Tekakwitha, it’s a reality. The annual Mini Holy Family Fest weekend provides family members the opportunity to reconnect with one another, themselves, the faith, and other families — all the while immersed in nature.

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At Friday evening check-in, this year’s 13 families pitched their tents in Camp Tekakwitha’s primitive lower campsite. After settling in, we all made the 5-minute trek up the wooded trails to the main campus, where the trees give way to a sprawling view of the lake and valley. St. Kateri Chapel, the mess hall, showers and the Lodge lay perched on a clearing.

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Even excited little campers calmed in St. Kateri chapel, enraptured by its view of the lake and the Native American depictions of the Blessed Mother, Christ, and the Apostles, as we waited for 7:30 p.m. Mass to begin. Amid the fragrant haze of incense, Mass in honor of the the Sacred Heart was celebrated by a priest of the Apostolate of Family Consecration. There were barefoot little ones, preoccupations with kneelers, screaming babies and all the sounds that accompany a family at Mass, and not a head swiveled to notice.

More to read: Pope Francis’ Homily at Opening Mass for Synod on the Family

Alabama heat finally gave way to damp coolness as we made our way back to the lower campsite in complete darkness, after enjoying root beer floats in the mess hall. The woods were alive with the excited shrieks of children and the flashes of their lanterns. As I lay in our tent reading that night, in hushed tones I could hear the bedtime prayers of families all around me — and I knew this was something special.

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The weekend is designed in beautiful balance — I saw it as a twist on the Benedictine ora et labora — “pray and work.” Instead, it was ora et ludere — pray and play!

Weekend coordinator and hostess Patrice Lappert explains, “I feel it’s so important for kids to attend a beautiful, reverent Mass — and then walk outside and see kids kicking a soccer ball and playing — to see that it all exists in unison.”

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Saturday was full of activity and games for parents and children alike. Bishop Robert Baker had kept his promise about a new pool to enjoy, and there were canoeing, paddle-boats, and hiking … but also prayer and the sacraments. The balance was beautifully illustrated for me at 3 p.m., when the bell rang for the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and every boat on the lake glided to a stop, mid-paddle — their occupants praying on the water, and then continuing on.

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Waking up to rain Sunday morning, all scurried up to the mess hall where a light breakfast was served before Mass celebrated by the bishop. When Mass concluded, we shared brunch and a slideshow of the weekend. Kids reveled in the rain while families packed up to return to homes scattered throughout the state.

The Camp Tekakwitha experience renewed me in more ways than I could describe. But one of the best parts about the experience is that these graces can be “payed forward.”

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Our Alabama event was facilitated and staffed by couples who were blessed in years past with similar campouts at the Annual Holy Family Fest in Ohio.

But anyone could host a Mini Fest, particularly those who are past the rigors of the season with young children and want to help support current young families in their vocation.

More to read: A “Ministry of Succor”: Helping Young Moms Who Struggle

Patrice Lappert, of the Apostolate For Family Consecration, suggested just a few steps for bringing a Mini Fest to your own area:

  • Check with your diocese to see if they have a location used for retreats or camps — most do! Locations without internet and cell phone service are a plus.
  • Assemble a crew of couples and teenagers who are willing to provide a corporal work of mercy to young families by helping with cooking and activities for the weekend.
  • Find a priest eager for an opportunity to draw close to his flock and follow Pope Francis’ advice to take on the “smell of his sheep.” The sacraments are the most important parts of the Fest.

More to read: How to Help Priests Smell Like Their Sheep

  • Based on your location fee, set a family registration fee, meal plan price and number for maximum capacity. Keep it small! The Alabama Mini Fest tops out at 65 participants.
  • Advertise in your parish bulletin, other local parish bulletins and the diocesan newspaper.
  • Consider attending a Family Fest in Ohio, to better understand how to format a Mini version.
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